Balloons Being Used To Help Restore Communications To Puerto Rico


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave Alphabet's Moonshot Factory approval to kick-start so-called Project Loon, which will aim to provide emergency cell services in the U.S. territory. It's an experimental license for the service, which is called Project Loon.

Project Loon, led by Google's parent company Alphabet, will get a chance to show how its network of balloons can provide connectivity to the people of Puerto Rico thanks to the FCC's approval on Friday.

Included in the application were letters from 800 and 900 MHz license holders in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands providing their consent for Loon to use frequencies granted to them.

Eight-three percent of the island's cellular sites remain out of commission, making communication on and off the island hard, according to the agency. "Project Loon is one such approach", Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

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Pai explained, "We need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island".

Google started testing its Project Loon, which sends transmitters in balloons that are high-altitude to give large rural areas low-priced broadband.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to send a "connectivity team" to help restore communications in ravaged Puerto Rico. In almost all counties in Puerto Rico, more than 75 percent of cell sites are not working, and "22 out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100 percent of their cell sites out of service".

However, before it is able to proceed with its plan in Puerto Rico, Project Loon will first need to find a carrier that is willing to partner with it for the endeavor.

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Of course, none of this would be possible without agents working from the ground, which makes the Puerto Rico situation all the more troublesome. In the latter country, Project Loon was already testing with a local carrier before the nation encountered heavy flooding.

The balloons are about the size of a tennis court when inflated at altitude and carry roughly the equivalent of a cell-tower communications package powered by solar panels during the day and batteries at night, according to Loon's technical data.

Project Loon must be integrated with the network of a cellular company in order to provide service, and Alphabet is "making solid progress on this next step", the spokesperson said. Devices from Samsung, Apple, LG, and others are capable of supporting LTE from Loon but will require an update OTA that can be undone later when the crisis is over with another OTA update.

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